The (Dys)-Functionality of Family

by | Jan 13, 2022 | It's Family | 0 comments

Sharing this helps others realize they are not alone

I thought I knew

I was working on a blog post about how much of a cycle-breaking badass I am. And then, during my research of cycle breaking (primarily around dysfunctional families), I got a bit of a reality kick in the ass, if you will.

My family is DYSFUNCTIONAL. I had no idea until today.

I mean, I knew, but now I truly know.

Reading about dysfunctional families, definitions, reading through, and answering questions about my family, let’s say, I knew it was bad, but I didn’t really understand. I think that is that part of my brain that kept telling me that it wasn’t that bad as I was constantly engaged in survivor mode. By minimizing what was going on, I was able to survive it.

But wow, I mean, really wow. How did I manage to get through that? Because I am a badass.

Anyone that broke away from that kind of shit storm is a badass. A realization that I made about being a badass – for me to realize my badassery, I have to understand what I escaped. And what I am working towards is truly breaking the cycle of dysfunction – retraining my brain away from dysfunctional thought processes.

American Psychological Association definition of a dysfunctional family:

A family in which relationships or communication are impaired, and members are unable to attain closeness and self-expression. Members of a dysfunctional family often develop symptomatic behaviors, and often one individual in the family presents as the identified patient.

Huh. That actually doesn’t sound too bad. Until I really start to break down what each of those parts means, it becomes more insidious.

Encyclopedia definition of a dysfunctional family:

A family whose interrelationships serve to detract from, rather than promote, the emotional and physical health and well-being of its members.

Although this term is used casually in popular culture, health care professionals define a dysfunctional family as one where the relationships among family members are not conducive to emotional and physical health. Sexual or physical abuse, alcohol and drug addictions, delinquency and behavior problems, eating disorders , and extreme aggression are some conditions commonly associated with dysfunctional family relationships.

I think that the encyclopedia provides a better understanding of the consequences of a dysfunctional family. And yes, I think the term is casually thrown about in pop culture without properly understanding what dysfunction means.

The overuse of the word ‘dysfunctional’ dilutes its true meaning. And therefore downplays the effects of that word and minimizes the reactions to those hearing it. I know I have been guilty of this.

Now, when I use that word, I mean it, in all its horrible glory. 

To gain insight into how dysfunctional your family was (or is), review the following questions. Answering ‘yes’ to even one of these questions might indicate that your family of origin was dysfunctional.1


  1. Were siblings pitted against each other in your family? Did your parents have a favorite and/or a scapegoat?
  2. In a two-parent household, were you extremely close to one parent and extremely distant from the other? Did your parents seem closer to one of their children than to each other?
  3. In a single-parent household, were you your parent’s best friend and confidante? Did your parent resent you for having your own friends or social life?
  4. Did your parents routinely violate your boundaries—opening bedroom and bathroom doors without knocking, rummaging through your belongings, eavesdropping on your conversations—without good cause?
  5. Were you deprived of food, clothing, medical care, and other necessities even though your parents had the means to provide them for you?
  6. Did abuse of any kind—verbal, emotional, physical, sexual—occur in your household, or did your parents fail to protect you from abuse that occurred elsewhere?
  7. Were you told not to tell people outside of your family what happened in your household?
  8. Did your parents or guardians struggle with addiction to food, drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, hoarding, shopping, etc.? Were these addictions not openly discussed, or were you and other family members encouraged to enable these addictions somehow?
  9. Did your parents or guardians have an untreated or undertreated mental illness?
  10. Did domestic violence occur in your household?
  11. Did your parents or guardians harbor major secrets from you regarding finances, illnesses, paternity/maternity, extramarital affairs (and any children produced from these relationships), etc.?
  12. Did your parents threaten to abandon you or actually abandon you? Did one parent routinely threaten to leave the other or actually do so in an abrupt manner?
  13. Were you punished for expressing yourself, sharing your opinions, pursuing your hobbies, excelling in school, or another area?
  14. Were you treated more like an adult than as a child as you grew up? Were you expected to raise your siblings, complete difficult household chores, or take on responsibilities more appropriate for adults?
  15. Were you infantilized—treated, clothed, or disciplined like you were far younger than you actually were?
  16. Did the public personas of your parents or guardians completely differ from their private personas?

As I was going through the questions, my heart started beating fast. I became really, really sad because it would have been easier to keep track of the ‘No’ responses. There was only one. One out of sixteen questions. The rest of the questions are ‘Yes.’

I admit that when I first saw this list of questions, I skimmed through them. Was that my brain trying to protect me? Maybe. Okay, most likely yes. It was absolutely my brain trying to protect me from the truth. I went back to the questions and read carefully through each one. As I did, sadness gripped my heart.


No one else within my family of origin will ever say this, but to the little girl within me, the one that didn’t have much of a chance, to her, I say, ‘Sorry.’ I am sorry that no one was there for you. I am sorry no one was there to give you the love you so desperately needed. I am sorry that no one was there to protect you from your parents. I am so sorry.

You, little girl, become a badass.

Sources Cited

Nittle, Nadra (August 09, 2021). [Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD]. What is a Dysfunctional Family?

Sharing this helps others realize they are not alone


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *